Mitch McConnell is a Republican Senator from the state of Kentucky. He has served in the Senate since 1985, and as Senate Majority leader since 2015. Susan Collins is a Republican Senator from the state of Maine. She has served in the Senate since 1997.
Collins is known as a smart, sensible, and solid senator. But McConnell is known as among the most clever and cunning of senators, a so-called Master of the Senate, credited with being super-savvy about the legislative process. The more startling, then, that on the most important of all recent congressional initiatives, repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), McConnell lost and Collins won. He wanted Republican repeal and replace measures to pass. She did not – they did not.
Why? In part because the supposedly crafty McConnell made a major mistake at the outset. He chose not to invite a single woman to participate in working group meetings on repealing and replacing the ACA. That’s right. Though he claimed to have “everybody at the table,” in fact McConnell’s 13-member working group consisted exclusively of white males. As foolish as outrageous – an egregious error that cost him dearly. When time came to push for a vote on repeal, three Republican senators declared publicly that they would not support any bill that legislated repeal but not replace. All three were Republican women, led, arguably, by Senator Collins, who, from the outset, made her misgivings clear.
Michele Swers has written a very good book – Women in the Club – on gender and policy making in the Senate. Had McConnell ever taken a look at the book he would’ve understood how excluding women from policy making, especially on an issue such as health care, was bad business. Since “gender affects the policy priorities of individual senators and the intensity of their commitment to issues,” keeping women out of the room while ACA decisions were being made was strategy idiocy.* McConnell should have known that the days when women in America can be excluded altogether, without men paying a price, are over. As Susan Collins might, in her understated way, be the first to testify.
*Women in the Club: Gender and Policy Making in the Senate, University of Chicago Press, 2013, p. 231.